In my daughter hit her double digit age of ten and her tastes in entertainment began to shift from the princess movies popularized by the Walt Disney Studios to the more action packed faire represented by the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’. Just before our home was taken over my turtle action figures my daughter became on infatuated with another animated film that would quickly be indoctrinated into the coveted Disney Animated canon; ‘The Lion King’. Right off this movie was a departure in several key components to the typical Disney movie. The most glaring is the nearly mandatory focus on a princess with a prince, the male hair to the throne. It also covers more than the usual time line depicting the maturation of the central character. These changes in the highly successful Disney formula were made more palatable by setting the changes against the components that made the illustrious Disney animated canon the most beloved group of films ever. ‘The Lion King’ exhibited the joyful exuberance and magical musical numbers that can make even the most jaded adult forget they are watching a movie that involves cute talking animals. This particular film is one of the first of a new breed of family entertainment. A while ago these films out grew confinement too the movie theater migrating to home video tape and television broadcast. ‘Lion King’ was one of the first Disney film to make its way to a variety of different means of media distribution. This movie had the typical theatrical release augmented by the high resolution media extravaganza, IMAX. It also became an amazingly successful and enduring musical on Broadway that has become a major source of tourist revenue for New York City. Now Disney has remastered the movie for the latest entertainment trend, 3D. After a limited run of this format in the local Cineplex you can continue to enjoy this movie in the dimensional splendor with a 3D home entertainment release. This four disc set offers you and your family just about every way currently possible to enjoy the film; Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy. This is the new marketing paradigm for the flagship of Disney’s home theater line, their lauded ‘Diamond Collection’.
The central themes explored in this story are close to Shakespearian in nature with two brothers in contention for their father’s throne of power, authority and responsibility. The film opens with the animals of the jungle converging on Africa’s ‘Pride Rock. The wise mandrill Rafiki (voiced by Robert Guillaume) has come to present the new heir to the jungle throne. The seat of power is currently held by King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (voiced by Madge Sinclair). The citizens of the jungle have run and flown to this spot to see the first public appearance of the new heir apparent, the cub samba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, later by Matthew Broderick). However, the pervasive adulation is not quite universal; it is not shared by the King’s younger brother Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons). He is jealous of his new nephew’s general acceptance but mostly for the presumption that Simba will attain the throne after his brother. Mufusa’s hornbill advisors inform him that hyenas have invaded the Pride’s territory and must be driven off. This cuts short the fatherly training in leadership Simba has been receiving from his royal father. This invasion turns out to be part of Scar’s nefarious plot to get rid of his nephew. Under Scar’s direction the hyenas stamped a large herd of wildebeests a canyon where Simba just happens to be playing. Mufasa rushes in to rescue his son and becomes trapped himself. His only way out is to climb the gorge’s walls but before he can pull himself to safety Scar pushes the king to his death. In another departure from the usually Disney playbook it’s the father not the mother that meets an untimely death. The evil Scar twists the facts blaming young Simba for Mufasa’s demise. While this does suggest a certain ‘Hamlet’ vibe you have to keep in mind that this is a Disney animated musical so the more adult themes have been dismissed. What remains is a young lion’s departure over his guilt and grief which gives Scar the opportunity he has coveted; becoming King of the Jungle. Unprepared for life outside the Pride land the young lion soon collapses but is nursed back to health by Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane), a meerkat, and Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella), a warthog. Years pass and Simba rescue the pair from a hungry Lioness who turns out to be his childhood friend and future love interest Nala (voiced by Moira Kelly). She tells Simba that the pride is suffering under Scar’s rule and he must return to claim the throne. Initially he refuses until a vision of his father’s ghost changes his mind.
No one can dismiss this film as a mere cartoon; it represents an amazing assembly of some of the most talented people around. The musical score was provided by Sir Elton John with lyrics by Tim Rice. This opus became the platform for these men to add an Academy Award to their already crowded shelf of honors. Many of these songs would go on to contribute to a Tony win for the translation to the Broadway stage. As far as the vocal talents are concerned this is a dream cast by any definition. The majestic tones of James Earl Jones as Mustafa convey the necessary gravitas needed to sound like a king. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane are a famous pair on both stage and screen brings their incredible chemistry to bear here.
The 3D translation here is extraordinarily effective using the added dimension more naturally than most retro fits I’ve encountered. The one caveat I’ve noted that the color balance took a noticeable nit in vibrancy. After comparing the 3D and straight Blu-ray versions the color palette seemed more alive in the 2D version. It is important to note though that they all surpass the normal DVD variation. Thus is just a matter of degree and was easily remedied by a minor adjustment to the television setting going from cinema mode to ‘dynamic’. Once that was done the picture became remarkably sharp. The 3D effect came across without the usual show off moves such as constantly thrusting objects at the audience. The added dimension is used to create a seamless stage for the action. This effect is greatly enhanced by the lossless audio. The resultant sound stage is full and robust filling your living with a solid audio. Disney as once again cemented their position as the zenith of family entertainment.